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December 04, 2016
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Bethel moves to protect, encourage farmland

The Town of Bethel, which cares enough about the agricultural community to list the farms in the town on its website, will consider a number of changes to its zoning code intended to protect and encourage more agricultural activity in the town.

At a meeting on July 27, council member Denise Frangipane, who is also a member of the Bethel Agriculture Implementation Committee, presented a 17-page packet of proposed changes to her colleagues. She said the committee had considered a wide array of possible uses that might come to the town, from the very small, such as an aviary for birds, to the very large, such as a stadium for a rodeo. She said the committee tried to determine what impacts they would have on existing farms in the county, as well as other residents and businesses.

The zoning code is already fairly farm-friendly, and agriculture has played an important role as the zoning in the town has been transformed over the past six years. Many of the recommendations would make it even more so. For instance, one recommendation is “Expand the definition of open space beyond recreation and commonly owned land to include conservation and agricultural protection.”

Another suggestion would “require agricultural buffers be placed when a non-agricultural use is proposed immediately adjacent to an existing farm operation or agri-business.”
There is also a list of proposed definitions to be considered, such as “gentlemen farm,” which is defined as an “agricultural operation that is maintained without expectation of being a primary source of income. Some provide recreational land and others are managed as small farms for sideline income, or are run at an operating loss as a lifestyle choice by people with the means to do so.”

The town board will consider the proposed changes over the
next few months.

Sewer and cyberspace

In other business, supervisor Dan Sturm said the town was able to bond $2.5 million at a rate of 3.75%, which he called “amazing” in this economic environment; the low interest rate was possible, he said, because the investment community considers the town a good investment. The money will go to pay for the sewer extension to Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. Sturm pointed out that the debt would mostly be paid by Bethel Woods, and also by any other entities that hook up to the extension.

On another matter, there is a bill pending in the NYS Assembly that would require that proposed rules and regulations that are to be discussed at a town meeting or other municipal meetings be posted on the town’s website before the date of the meeting during which they will be discussed. This would apply to municipalities that regularly update their sites and that have high-speed internet connections.

Robert Freeman, executive director of the NYS Committee on Open Government, which proposed the law, said in a phone interview, it would also cover such things as building permits and site plans, but added the law would only apply to bodies that reasonably have the ability to comply with it.

The bill was briefly discussed at the meeting and Sturm said that while many people who have business with the town already file documents electronically, he was opposed to adopting any regulation which would make that mandatory because it would be a “burden” for people in the community.